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Cooking up a storm

Varsha Rao Dec 2 2017, 16:57 IST
Executive chef Vikas Khanna makes a cauliflower dish from his new book

Executive chef Vikas Khanna makes a cauliflower dish from his new book "Indian Harvest" at Junoon restaurant in New York City on Oct. 6, 2015. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times) Chef Vikas Khanna

He is the poster boy for Indian cuisine on the global platform. He is the man behind the Michelin-starred restaurant Junoon in New York. He has more than 25 culinary books to his credit and has been a regular face on Indian television through a variety of food shows. He's also a regular mentor to aspiring chefs on MasterChef India. Say hello to Vikas Khanna.
An award-winning chef, Vikas has put the spotlight on authentic Indian cuisine in a way no one else has. A humble boy from Amritsar, Vikas became passionate about cooking when he used to help his grandmother in her kitchen. At 17, he started his own catering business. Almost two decades later, he opened his first restaurant in New York. Vikas has cooked for the likes of the Obamas and Queen Elizabeth, apart from working with internationally acclaimed chefs like Gordon Ramsay. Over the years, he has added many awards and recognitions to his repertoire. What more, a documentary chronicling his life, Buried Seeds, has been screened at many important film festivals around the world, including
Cannes.
Recently, he added two more books to his record: A Tree Named Ganga, a book for kids, and Poeatry, a unique blend of food and poetry. Talking about the books, Vikas says, "A Tree Named Ganga is the tale of a simple seed that grows into a majestic tree. But one day, she loses all her friends because of her arrogance, and that's when she learns the biggest lesson of her life. Coming to Poeatry, I love writing and used to pen poems now and then and post them on social
media. The response to such poems was amazing. When I gathered all my poems together, I realised I have enough for a book. It also talks about many different kitchens and cooking traditions around the world."

Here are the excerpts from a conversation with the masterchef:

Why did you choose cooking?

It's the most beautiful and pure way of celebrating life. It's almost like a religion for me. Cooking allows you to express yourself so well. It's edible art. It is also one of the best ways of bonding with people.

According to you, what were the biggest food trends in 2017?

I saw the concept of smaller plates making a big comeback this year. Earlier, people would indulge in lavish and elaborate meals. Now, they want to enjoy a variety of dishes in smaller portions. This is a great thing for us chefs because it allows us to experiment more and get creative.

Indian food is considered spicy, especially outside India. What do you have to say about it?

This is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about Indian cuisine. When your mother cooks at home, does she make spicy food every day? The fact is we use spices in varying degrees in our food. Yes, there are certain dishes that ask for that extra kick of heat, but not every dish demands
spices. Spicy food is only limited to
special occasions in our country. I try to make people aware of the real taste of Indian cuisine in my own way through my restaurant in New York and they are always surprised.

Many also assume Indian food is not healthy...

Home cooking is definitely healthy. But when it comes to restaurants, it's a different matter. When our mothers cook at home, they always use desi ingredients in a limited quantity, don't they? I'll give you an example of the irony that exists today. We always eat lots of ghee at home. But when you are baking, for instance, a pound cake, you add a pound of everything: flour, sugar, eggs and butter. So, in essence, you are going to eat an entire pound of butter in one sitting! So, it's all a matter of making people aware of true Indian food.

Has Indian food made its mark
globally?

Would I have been invited to the White House if Indian food hadn't made its mark globally? Or would a Russian filmmaker make a film on my life if Indian food hadn't made its mark globally? Do you know this film, Buried Seeds, was screened at so many film festivals around the world, and people loved it. I was so surprised to get so much love from people outside the country. The world has definitely woken up to our food. Currently, there are so many chefs who are taking Indian food to different corners of the world.

Today, technology has given almost everyone a chance to be a food critic. As a chef, what's your take on it?

Open speech is always a good thing. Because of this open speech, people can talk, people can resist, people can figure out the good from the bad. I am always open to people critiquing my food. Such platforms allow me to apologise to people if I couldn't impress them with my food and also request them for another chance.

How was your White House
experience?

Fabulous. I loved it when President Obama called me for Michelle Obama's birthday. I remember he said to Michelle, 'We are thankful to Vikas because he didn't just bring the food of India to us, he actually brought along a strong sense of their culture too.' For most of the people in the West, India is a centre of wisdom, knowledge, food, spices, yoga and meditation. So, they are always intrigued by everything Indian.

What's your advice for aspiring chefs?

Be honest. We have such a great culture, which is dominating the world today. You have got to take pride in it. You have to see Indian food with a new set of eyes to make a global
impact.

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